• Strange Notions Strange Notions Strange Notions

Pascal in “The Rum Diary”

Rum Diary

The Rum Diary is a rollicking farce based on Hunter S. Thompson's novel of the same name written in the early 1960s. It focuses on a young American journalist named Paul Kemp who ventures into sweaty, inebriated San Juan, Puerto Rico to write for an ill-fated newspaper, and stumbles into the middle of a major land acquisition deal.

Thompson said that his "long lost" novel (which wasn't published until 1998) had "a romantic notion," and that it was simply "a good story." I haven't read the book, but the same can be said about film adaptation with Johnny Depp. The sluggish car chases, drunken misadventures, drug-induced hallucinations, silky temptresses and bloody-eyed hangovers are more than enough to make you guffaw and forget your cares and worries - there is even an absurd diamond-encrusted turtle who makes a few guest appearances, and struck me as a perfectly insane image for this film. This is straight entertainment at its finest, no chaser.

But the diamond-crusted turtle also calls to mind a running theme of the film, a philosophical notion with its roots in 17th century philosopher Blaise Pascal.

At more than a few turns in the road, when the rum has run dry and the harsh clarity of sobriety is beginning to rush in, Kemp transcends the organized chaos of San Juan and begins to understand his true calling as a journalist: "I put the bastards of this world on notice that I do not have their best interests at heart. I will try and speak for my reader."

His mission to take down "the bastards" of the world is definitely fueled in part by his encounters with Sanderson, a sandy-haired real estate mogul played with deft obnoxiousness by Aaron Eckhart. Sanderson is ambitious, wealthy, self-centered. He encrusts a turtle with jewels because he got the idea "from a book," while locals starve everywhere around him - and, despite Kemp's reservations, he is drawn into Sanderson's shady plan to fill a local island with a mega-resort. 

This narrative could be read in any number of ways - socially, economically, politically - but the most complete reading comes from a lobster. Or rather, Kemp on psychedelics looking at a lobster.

The trippy scene - which fans of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas will instantly recognize - ends with a wobbly, wild-eyed Kemp staring down a lobster in a tank. Kemp feels like this lobster is watching him and Sanderson and the rest of crazy San Juan, and can almost hear its thoughts: "Human beings are the only creatures on earth that claim a God and the only living thing that behaves like it hasn't got one."

This is an incredibly insightful and important statement - and deserves some exploration.

What Kemp (and really, Thompson) is getting at is a central paradox in Sanderson, Kemp, and all of humanity: that we tend to sing about, aspire to, and worship the divine, but practice, fall into, and embody the monstrous. Pick up any newspaper and you'll see two facts: as a species, we crave moral perfection, but we tend to be morally hideous.

This craving for moral perfection gives us an almost angelic posture, one that sets us apart from other animals. No other creature in this world prattles on about justice, wisdom, beauty, mercy, and love. Our moral hideousness also sets us apart - but in the opposite direction. Exploitation, torture, hatred, deceit, and war are all cruelties the animal kingdom could never conjure. As Dostoevsky put it in The Brothers Karamazov: "People talk sometimes of a bestial cruelty, but that's a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel. The tiger only tears and gnaws, that's all he can do. He would never think of nailing people by the ears, even if he were able to do it."

This notion of man as both a monstrous and magnificent creature, standing somewhere between angel and animal, takes its cue from philosopher Blaise Pascal. Although he contributed greatly to mathematics ("Pascal's triangle") and physics ("Pascal's law"), he also did significant writing on matters of philosophy and theology - notably in his collection Pensees

In Pensees, Pascal writes of the paradox of man as both "wretched" and "great" - or, evil and noble, low-down and high-minded.

We are wretched because we are "full of pride, ambition, lust, weakness, misery, and injustice." Unlike other animals, we fall from moral ideals - not to moral neutrality, but to moral baseness - and the net result is unhappiness. As philosopher Peter Kreeft notes in his lengthy commentary on Pensees: "Unhappiness is perhaps the most obvious and pervasive feature of experience. It was for Buddha...his very 'first noble truth' was that 'to live is to suffer; life is suffering [dukkha, out-of-joint-ness].' "

But as Pascal writes, "we are incapable of not desiring truth and happiness." Kreeft explains: "Truth (our head's food) and happiness (our heart's food) are the two things everyone wants, and not in crumbs but in great loaves; not in raindrops but in waves. Yet these are the two things no one gets except in little crumbs and droplets."

From our sink-hole of unhappiness, we cry out for and search for something - not a little relief here and there, but perfect truth and goodness. None of us have it, and we all want it. More often than not, this has manifested - a truth that is anthropological before being religious - in a cry for God.

Kemp in The Rum Diary seems to carry on Pascal's tradition - he notes that man is distinct in both his "greatness" and "wretchedness," in his godly talk and his ungodly actions. This is a powerful insight - one that all of the data and experience in the world supports. But what does it mean?

First, it might mean that, as Kreeft notes, "man is a living oxymoron: wretched greatness, great wretchedness, rational animal, mortal spirit, thinking reed." Or, in Pascal's words: "What sort of freak then is man! How novel, how monstrous, how chaotic, how paradoxical, how prodigious! Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, repository of truth, sink of doubt and error, the glory and refuse of the universe!"

It might mean that our temptations toward seeing man as fundamentally a divine spirit or "angelic" (certain Christian denominations, Eastern religions, and philosophies) or as fundamentally an animal like any other (materialism, behaviorism) miss the mark on what sort of creature man is. As Pascal writes, "man is neither angel nor beast," yet both.

And most importantly, it might mean that our doubleness, our paradoxical nature, suggests that humanity, like Humpty Dumpty, has suffered some kind of great fall, some catastrophe. We're broken, screwed up, deracinated, unstable - but we know or "remember" something higher to climb to, to long for, something perfect that's nowhere to be seen in the world, but that lingers in our collective memory.

The million dollar question: what theory of man can put us back together again?
 
 
Originally appeared at By Way of Beauty. Used with permission.
(Image credit: Sky Movies)

Matthew Becklo

Written by

Matthew Becklo is a husband and father-to-be, amateur philosopher, and cultural commentator at Aleteia and Word on Fire. His writing has been featured in First Things, The Dish, and Real Clear Religion.

Enjoy this article? Receive future posts free by email:

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • Yes I agree that humans are very different than other animals, but perhaps not to the extent you think. Some animals do have war, culture, language and justice, but much less complex.

    It is clear that humans have brains with much more developed abilities than pretty much any other animals, this coupled with the opposable thumb had led to the incredible variety and complexity of human experience. We have incredible art, architecture, science, academics, language and so on. We also have incredible nasty sides like torture, grief and so on. This, to me suggests a unique complex species. It doesn't in any way entail a "fall" to me, or that I am wretched.

    What you put forward is a uniquely monotheistic point of view that we are damaged goods, (damaged due to our ancestor's bad meal choice apparently). There is nothing intuitive in this it is not established by any reasonable argument. It is a sad and unnecessary and I would say twisted view of humanity developed thousands of years ago by a people who were trying to account for why so many bad things happened to them despite their repeated sacrifices to Yaweh.

    Crikey

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Do you think you are not wretched or damaged?

      • Max Driffill

        I do not think I am wretched or damaged. This is not to say I am free of problems or bad days, etc. But I don't think we as a species or "damaged" certainly nothing so dramatic as "wretched."

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I think having the desire for 'complete happiness securely forever' and getting 'fragile partial happiness' along with plenty of suffering and eventually death is kind of what the OP means by wretched.

          • Max Driffill

            Yeah, I think that kind of terminology is unhelpful. Still no.

          • Max Driffill

            I also find the author's generalizations about the state of humanity, as generally unhappy, unfounded.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I didn't read it like you did. I saw it as six degrees of happiness and a half-dozen degrees of unhappiness.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Thoreau, no Christian, said "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." I don't think he said this because he knew the secret to a happy life, but because he too lived a life of quiet desperation.

          • Max Driffill

            I'm sorry but who cares what Thoreau said? Was he some authority on human nature, or the mass of men? Did he have any numbers or sound analysis to support his claim?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            He wrote "Walden" and "Civil Disobedience" which was the basis of non-violent fighting for justice and a lot of people in American culture have thought him worth listening to.

            He wrote before modern psychology and sociology existed.

          • Max Driffill

            That is fine. He is not necessarily an authority.

          • I would call such a definition painfully ad hoc and silly. I don't think I am damaged or wretched or born broken with a sin nature. Religions that characterize humanity like this are sick, in my opinion.

            I don't need to be saved, I don't need to be fixed. Neither do you. We all have desires and intuition to do things that help others and do things that help only us or that feel good in the long term and may be bad for us in the long term.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The OP is really talking about the consequences of original sin. That does not mean a "sin nature" or wretched in a strong sense, but a good but wounded nature which is inclined to sin (to doing what is morally wrong).

            If you (not you personally) don't think that each person is out of harmony with himself, with other people, and with nature, then I think you are a darned lucky guy.

            If you don't think it is hard to know the truth and do the good and that your passions and ignorance don't convince you to do dumb and bad things from time to time, I'd again say you are very fortunate.

            I can understand that atheists reject the notions of original holiness, original justice, original sin, and the cause of the consequences of original sin. What I find hard to understand is a rejection of the description of the condition human beings are actually in, which Catholic call the consequences of original sin.

          • David Nickol

            What I find hard to understand is a rejection of the description of the condition human beings are actually in, which Catholic call the consequences of original sin.

            I agree the Christian notion of "the fall" seems (or seemed) to explain something about the human condition, but ever since Darwin (and Freud) there has been a much more plausible explanation. Human beings aren't "fallen." They are animals who have managed to build civilization but still have (and no doubt will always have) leftover traits and impulses from previous stages of evolution. It seems so simple and obvious to me. The story of Adam and Eve is a kind of "just so" story that explains why snakes crawl, why people (especially women) are afraid of snakes, why men have to work hard, and why women suffer pain in childbirth. That's really about it. All the rest, about preternatural gifts and such, is read into a simple story that can't bear the weight of such elaborate interpretations.

            Cooperating as human beings in a civilized world isn't "natural," and there are always tensions between the animal demands of being an individual human, and the cultural demands of being a member of a well ordered society. It is necessary to defer gratification (and often give it up altogether), to put the needs of the group ahead of personal needs, and in other respects act in ways that do not come "naturally." It takes years and years of training and imposed discipline to turn a newborn baby into a functioning member of a civilized society. It is unnecessary to attribute infantile and selfish behavior to original sin. We are born that way because we are animals, and we must undergo years and years of training to fit into civilized society.

            Our minds are the products of evolution. It is not as if human beings, before some "fall," had the preternatural gift of "integrity [which] consisted in the perfect subjection of the concupiscible and irascible appetitive powers to the dictates of reason and free will." Human being evolved form "lower" animals and had—and still have—"lower" animal appetites, which are kept in check (though imperfectly, and with difficulty) by outside forces as well as internalized ones.

            Once humanity had the scientific knowledge about human evolution, there was no need for anything approaching a literal interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve, although there are symbolic interpretations that are quite insightful and fascinating. Adam and Eve, for example, are very much like children who must eventually give up total dependency and strike out on their own if they are every going to be adult, independent people. The time comes when you must break with your parents and become your own person, otherwise, no matter what your age, you remain a child.

            How in the world would people have lived, according to the Christian vision, if Adam and Eve hadn't fallen? We have an ongoing series by Fr. Spitzer basically arguing that if human beings want to amount to anything, they need to live in an "imperfect" world. There is a certain amount of sense in what Fr. Spitzer says, but the extent to which it is persuasive is the extent to which mankind in an "un-fallen" state would have been like simpleminded, dependent children.

            Though perhaps not the most profound book ever written, Gary Marcus's Kluge: The Haphazard Evolution of the Human Mind gives the beginning of the answer as to why "human reason" is the way it is. Here is an excerpt from the book description"

            In Kluge, Gary Marcus argues convincingly that our minds are not as elegantly designed as we may believe. The imperfections result from a haphazard evolutionary process that often proceeds by piling new systems on top of old ones—and those systems don’t always work well together. The end product is a "kluge," a clumsy, cobbled-together contraption. Taking us on a tour of the essential areas of human experience—memory, belief, decision making, language, and happiness—Marcus unveils a fundamentally new way of looking at the evolution of the human mind and simultaneously sheds light on some of the most mysterious aspects of human nature.

            Are we to believe that Adam and Eve had perfect brains that were somehow scrambled because they committed some transgression? Assuming for the sake of argument that the story is accurate, who but God had the power to scramble the human mind?

            It is easy, if you don't put much effort into it, to imagine there's some kind of perfect Edenic social arrangement which is beyond our reach because of the effects of "the fall," but try to work it out in any detail at all and you will find it is a pipe dream.

            There is simply no evidence whatsoever that there were ever "better" human beings than ourselves who had "preternatural gifts" and whose loss of those gifts accounts for our condition today. And, in my humble opinion, without evidence, the idea has nothing particular to recommend it. The concept, as such, is not in Genesis. It is a construction based on a kind of "foundation" in Genesis, but many other constructions are possible even for those who hold Genesis as the inspired word of God, since the story of Adam and Eve is filled with ambiguities and open to many interpretations. But I would say that the story of Adam and Eve, given what we know about human origins, simply cannot be interpreted to be about real people, our "first parents," who committed some unknown transgression of their own free will and damaged human nature for all their descendants. There is just no good reason to believe it, and no good reason to work out scenarios (like Mike Flynn's) that attempt to make it compatible with modern science.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Brandon should publish this as an OP and we can have at it.

          • Michael Murray

            Agreed. David's comment would be an excellent post for Strange Notions.

          • mriehm

            I agree strongly with what David said. I find it very odd to read some of the strange notions about the Fall on this website - that humans evolved from the animal, and then at some point made a proverbial quantum leap to a state of perfection, but then almost immediately fell back again as a result of making a bad choice in a game that was seemingly rigged by an all-powerful and yet puerile and spiteful deity.

            Our state is much more easily explained by just skipping the unbelievable, disjoint, temporary-step-function-into-perfection phase, and accepting continuity with our pre-homo sapiens past. The lion's life is not perfect, nor is the sea otter's. Why should ours be, just because we happen to be smarter than them?

          • Michael Murray

            The lion's life is not perfect, nor is the sea otter's. Why should ours be, just because we happen to be smarter than them?

            In fact as both those creatures probably lack the ability to reflect on their future suffering and death their lives may well be a lot less anxious than hours.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            David, I think your account is pretty reasonable given your take on evolution and your rejection of revelation and the teaching authority of the Church.

            (I don't think the things you say about man as an animal would upset any early Christian thinker, since they knew quite well from Aristotle that man is a rational animal.)

            I think we somewhat agree on the condition human beings find themselves in.

            We disagree on why we are in that condition.

            The early Christian writers used the data of divine revelation to build an understand of the why. The divine revelation consisted of the Jewish Scriptures, the Christian writings agreed to be authentic, and the general understanding of the Church of the meaning of all of them in light of Christ. They used reason to build up a picture from that data.

            The Church does not read Genesis 3 in isolation but in light of her understanding of New Testament.

          • David Nickol

            The early Christian writers used the data of divine revelation to build an understand of the why.

            But they used that "data" to work out an understanding that conflicts with the facts as we now know them. I think there are many perfectly plausible interpretations of Genesis that can be consistent with almost all of Catholic doctrine, but any interpretation that insists on the belief that Adam and Eve (or any human man and woman) were our "first parents" is simply untenable.

            A Catholic theologian I highly respect (but whose name I will not mention, since I don't want to drag him into this) has offered the opinion that International Theological Commission's document Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God leaves the idea of "first parents" behind. It certainly does if you read only paragraph 63, although there are references to Adam and Eve and even one to "first parents" elsewhere in the document.

          • Maxximiliann

            Except for the reality that the myth “that all the living forms in the world have arisen from a single source which itself came from an inorganic form"(this fiction: http://bit.ly/18b2Jxe http://bit.ly/12K0jnv) is shorn of any demonstrable , quantifiable , empirical , testable or replicable evidence . The reasoning here is this requires millions upon millions of years - which absolutely no one has actually observed since , well , it needs millions upon millions of years. Nevertheless the fossil record , which ought to demonstrate a string of infinitesimally progressive adjustments from one being to another over a course of millions of years , reveals the complete opposite . . . but it’s anticipated that ( one day , someday ) the “missing” fossils of those intermediate species are going to eventually be discovered . In short , the only evidence for evolution is the presumption of evolution .

          • David Nickol

            Nonsense.

          • What I object to is the characterization of us as being wounded by nature, out of harmony, in need of saving, inclined to sin. I don't deny the human condition, I detest the characterization of all humans as somehow born broken and wretched.

            Yes, when I look at a newborn baby I do not see someone born out of harmony, with a wounded nature inclined to sin.

            This characterization of us as somehow born flawed is an utter fiction invented by religion.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            "When I look at a newborn baby I do not see someone born out of harmony, with a wounded nature inclined to sin."

            You also do not see someone with reason and free will, yet those powers do develop over time.

            I agree that babies are completely innocent. I don't know anyone my age that is.

          • Michael Murray

            I agree that babies are completely innocent. I don't know anyone my age that is.

            You can't see the taint of original sin? Your Catechism can

            The Baptism of infants

            1250 Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called.50 The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.51

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think you are trying to put words in my mouth and create a contradiction where there is none.

            "Original sin does not have the character of a personal fault" (CCC 405). A baby has never committed an actual sin and is innocent. It is the weaknesses and inclinations that in that baby's human nature that eventually lead to actual sins.

            405 Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it; subject to ignorance, suffering, and the dominion of death; and inclined to sin—an inclination to evil that is called “concupiscence.” Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back toward God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.

          • Michael Murray

            So "completely innocent" but "weakened and inclined to evil" ?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Human beings are also inclined to good, but the consequence of not recognizing they are also inclined to evil is utopianism, all of which fail and some which fail disastrously (like Marxism).

            The recognition that human beings are inclined to evil is also the genius of the Founding Fathers of the United States who posited inalienable human rights, the rule of law rather than of men, and a balance of powers--all to limit the evil men could do.

            What is the link you think exists between the doctrine of original sin and priests who commit pedophilia?

          • David Nickol

            Human beings are also inclined to good, but the consequence of not recognizing they are also inclined to evil . . . .

            Human beings are inclined to good.
            Human beings are inclined to evil.

            I am reminded of this.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            What is your point?

          • David Nickol

            My point is that saying both that human beings are inclined to good and that human beings are inclined to evil is about as helpful as the fortuneteller saying—when asked if she could be more specific—"Some parts are working. Some parts are not working."

            I am not exactly sure what it means to be inclined to polar opposites. But since I am sure we all agree that human beings are all capable of both good and evil, it may be that a debate over the word inclined would be helpful.

            I would point out that according to Catholicism, among the two beings we know of who were created with an inclination toward good alone—angels and men—some of both chose evil even in their most pristine state of grace and goodness.

            How do we explain fallen angels and fallen men? Was it heredity or environment?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I would say that all human beings are inclined to choose the good by nature. The only reason we do anything is because we think it will make us happy or happier.

            Also, when we apprehend something that really is good, like generosity, or friendship, or beauty, we are drawn to it.

            Those are two examples of inclination to good.

            On the other hand, because we don't know often what is really good for us, we are inclined to something we think is good but is really not, like any of the seven deadly sins. You know the Johnny Cash song with the lyrics, "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die"? The character in the song though putting somebody down would be good.

          • David Nickol

            If human beings choose evil by mistake, thinking it is good, then they are not morally culpable. Clearly people do things willingly that they know are evil, although I think most religions list some things that are evil that really aren't, and focus on some evils (and non-evils) while ignoring worse evils. I am reading Team of Rivals at the moment, and Lincoln (famously) said, "If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong." How Christianity could have gone so long without making a statement that clear and unequivocal certainly has to be a mystery to those who believe the Holy Spirit guides the Church. And the same goes for anti-Semitism.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I agree. If it is a mistake or if the person is not capable of considering the right thing to do (like a child before the age of reason) there is no culpability.

            But we are talking about a person refusing to consider whether what he wants to do is right or wrong, according to reason.

            I'm reading Gregg Allman's "My Cross to Bear," and I'm not sure if he ever used his reason to make a decision!

          • Kevin Aldrich

            > "How do we explain fallen angels and fallen men? Was it heredity or environment?"

            According to Jacques Maritain in "St. Thomas and the Problem of Evil," sin arises through man's choice to act without considering the rule of reason.

            You see something, you want it, you take it.

            "So when the woman saw that the tree was good for
            food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate."

            If what you want is against the rule of reason, you are at fault because you have not measured what you want against that rule. We are always prone to this way of acting because we do not intrinsically possess the rule of reason. We have to go outside our selves to find it.

            St. Thomas uses this quaint example. If the carpenter had the rule of straightness in his hand, he would always cut straight. But he doesn't. He has to use something outside himself, literally a ruler. If we knew in ourselves what was always the right thing to do according to reason, we would probably do it. However, we don't, so even an unfallen man could neglect to advert to the rule of reason.

            That seems to fit Eve's and Adam's behavior. They failed to take counsel. They didn't question the serpent, they didn't think about it much themselves, they didn't talk it over, they didn't ask God.

          • David Nickol

            What about the famous Chesterton quote?

            The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.

          • Michael Murray

            What is the link you think exists between the doctrine of original sin and priests who commit pedophilia?

            I think it's the emphasis placed on the possible evil aspect of children that worries me. I think that links to the past refusal to believe children who reported child abuse. Of course that's a long way from being the only reason. It's also not unique to Catholicism. In Australia we have a long running Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Abuse. The reports from it are appalling. Not just the Catholic Church but Christianity more generally played a role. YMCA, Salvation Army, etc. Right now it's chasing swimming organisations.

            http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-07-06/royal-commission-shifts-focus-to-swimming-industry/5573354

            A common theme is children no being believed. I think that in part is a result of the Christian doctrine of original sin.

            In case you are not familiar with the notion of the Royal Commission under our legal system it is an enquiry but with strong legal powers to coerce witness to appear and demand evidence.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Based on what evidence do you think there is some kind of view in Catholicism that children are evil and that that has anything to do with children not being believed? Based on what evidence do you think child abuse has anything special to do with the Catholic Church or Christianity or any religion in general? What percentage of atheists abuse children? What percentalge of police officers do? How about public school teachers? How do those stack up against Catholic priests?

          • Michael Murray

            I'll let you look up the numbers if you want to Kevin as you will no doubt dispute any I dig out.

            My evidence for the attitude towards children isn't a particular attack on Catholicism but more a reflection on my own upbringing in Australia. I just don't think that historically at least we particularly liked children. When I was a kid beating your children with a leather strap to the point of the skin breaking even at the age of 5 or 6 was acceptable for parents and teachers. That would have been mid 1960s. When I was older in the early 1970s I went to a Marist Brothers school and use of the cane was prevalent. Is that tied to original sin ? I don't know but I think it's plausibly tied to a general attitude that children needed controlling rather than pointing in the right direction. It's more plausible than the evidence for God which is taken as a given at Strange Notions so maybe you should cut me some slack :-)

            Of course maybe the US was different although I do remember finding the idea that the kid on Lassie called his father "sir" as over the top even by the Australian standards of my childhood.

          • Max Driffill

            Children used to be horribly abused, and this abuse was largely justified by Christian doctrine (specifically the idea of total depravity). For a full and troubling treatment of this history see Steven PInker's The Decline of Violence. The idea that children had rights, is relatively new, and has been resisted by religious organizations as much as any other of the rights revolutions. Its a horrifying bit of human history generally and religious conviction didn't seem to assuage the practice. That had to wait for the Enlightenment.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Total depravity is a Calvinistic doctrine.

            Please show the statements in which horrible abuse of children is justified by Christian doctrine?

            Have you ever heard of the educator Don Bosco?

          • Max Driffill

            I don't know if it was justified by Catholic doctrine, but I do know that for some reason abuse of children has been, historically tolerated quite a lot by the Catholic Church. My own wonderful nun, the harsh Sister Annette, once lamented about the fact that she couldn't hit us with rulers any more at Seton Catholic School. The aggregate of Catholic doctrine can lead to some particularly heinous treatment of both children and women it seems.

            http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/06/03/bodies-of-800-babies-long-dead-found-in-septic-tank-at-former-irish-home-for-unwed-mothers/

          • Michael Murray

            Calvin wasn't a Christian ? Surely you mean Catholic doctrine ?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Max is libeling Christianity as in theory leading to the abuse of children. Christianity is grounded in love. The suffer in "suffer the children to come unto me," means allow.

          • Michael Murray

            Christianity is grounded in love

            Communism is grounded in equality. Things don't always work out the way we plan. Even with the best of intentions.

          • Michael Murray

            Thanks for the reminder I should read Pinker.

          • Max Driffill

            How many secular institutions would be allowed to continue to exist who tried, for decades, to shuttle known offenders around, and cover-up their the crimes of their employees? How many people would continue to affiliate themselves with such an organization that did that?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You mean why do schools and militaries and governments and private business still exist?

            Your definition and characterization of the Catholic Church is wholly inadequate and warped.

          • Max Driffill

            Kevin,
            Actually, there is a difference. Those institutions get thoroughly investigated, in a more often than not, transparent way, especially now. Wrong doers are cast out stripped of rank, and prosecuted, not shuffled around, their crimes covered up. The history of the RCC on these matters (long, sad and sordid) is more than mildly disgusting. I've yet to see its leadership apologize, or repudiate its role in the the imprisoning of unwed Irish mothers.

            Again, cover-up, lack of just action against perpetrators or wrong, lack of just action with victims, lack of transparency, kid gloves by prosecutors and political leadership no none religious organization would ever receive in the commission of similar crimes make the RCC problem different from the handling and investigation of other organizations. I am not making the claim that other orgs commit no crime, i am making the claim that there is a difference in the way subsequent exposure of wrong doing is handled.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            What gives you the right to decide what institutions get to continue to exist? What gives you the right to determine the criteria for that judgment?

            The vast majority of priests and bishops have had nothing to do with the sex abuse problem. The vast majority of the Catholic faithful have had nothing to do with it either, but we have paid dearly for the behavior of those rats. In Los Angeles, for example, last time I checked it was $600,000,000, and that is only the monetary cost.

            Do you know of even one public school which has not been allowed to continue to exist because of the abusive behavior of a teacher? Or even one public school in which the parents refused to send their children because of the abusive behavior of a teacher?

            Do you have any idea of the safeguards that Catholic schools have put into place to protect children?

          • Max Driffill

            Kevin,

            You miss my point while also refusing to deal with any of my content. I'm not deciding anything. I am noting that non-religoius organizations beset by these kinds of controversies, and scandals would not be treated with the kinds of kid gloves granted organizations like the RCC. I also never said anything like all members are of the RCC were responsible for any of its current and historical woes. But there are differences.

            1. I know of public schools in which scandal has rocked. But there are differences. Often whole scale changes in leadership and institutional culture change. There isn't an attempt to shift offenders from one school to another in the hopes that the problem goes away. There isn't an attempt to silence alleged victims, nor to shield events from state authorities. State authorities are allowed, without obstruction to adjudicate on the matter of guilt of a person accused of some crime. The accused aren't shipped off to Rome or some country beyond the reach of extradition. Accused parties aren't shipped somewhere where they might re-offend. There is no internal policy to cover-up allegations in public institutions.

            2. While the vast majority of priests and lay people certainly haven't committed any crimes against any one, and like most people are nice, they have, by silence, donations, etc aided and abetted the leadership of the RCC, too many of whom have crafted policies that valued the Church's reputation over the rights of victims, and transparency. So it is the participation, and general tendency of all the nice Catholics to demand less of their leadership, and exercise its might (dollars and voices and attendance) toward swift, and effective changes in institutional culture and leadership at the top.

            Do you have any idea of the safeguards that Catholic schools have put into place to protect children?

            Do you have any idea why it took eons for these safe guards to have been instituted? In my own days at Catholic school here were the safeguards put in place.

            "Um, you may want to go with a friend around Father X." Teacher, quietly to me. Rumor, and quiet recounting of tales of abuse were the most common thing that protected students in my days. Gallows humor about it was also a great way to offset the tension about it. So prolific were the worries, you see, it infected our sense of humor. My days in Catholic School were 1984-88.

            I'm sorry you are feeling attacked in this conversation. That is certainly not my intention. But I am a prisoner here of what I know, and what I know doesn't really permit a warm view of the hierarchy of the RCC.

          • Michael Murray

            Human beings are also inclined to good,

            I guess I just don't link the notion of "inclined to evil". It doesn't fit with what little I understand of human psychology. I would be much happier with "capable of" if we are talking of adults and neither notion if talking of children.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If what I wrote is "silly" what would you call attributing the human condition to a bad meal choice?

          • Ridiculous.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Well, Brian, I respect you so I will not ridicule you.

          • Ridicule me all you want, it doesn't bother me in the least. I am not the one following a God who corrupted the Earth and imposed sin nature on all humanity because Adam and Eve ate fruit they were told not to.

            Do you not believe in original sin?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I explained what I understand the effects of original sin to be above.

    • Hey Brian -

      It is clear that humans have brains with much more developed abilities than pretty much any other animals, this coupled with the opposable thumb had led to the incredible variety and complexity of human experience. We have incredible art, architecture, science, academics, language and so on. We also have incredible nasty sides like torture, grief and so on. This, to me suggests a unique complex species.

      Well put. This is actually exactly what I hoped to proffer in the article - nothing more, nothing less. "Incredible art, architecture, science, academics, language and so on" is basically what Pascal means by "greatness," and our "nasty sides like torture, grief and so on" is basically what he means by "wretchedness." And it's the same same duality glimpsed in The Rum Diary.

      Any knee-jerk reaction against some kind of insta-Christian import or reading on the human situation here might be too hasty since we're basically in agreement on the crucial point. Pascal himself in the Pensees goes to great lengths to emphasize that this is a purely a posteriori observation about man, one that is so evident in human experience and history that any theory of man, philosophical or religious, must account for the source of the paradox.

      • I am just not seeing a paradox. Evolutionary psychology provides a coherent explanation for it, as do many pagan religions with trickster deities. Also an evil god would explain this very well. I grant you that Christianity provides an explanation too, but it seems to be the most convoluted explanation. Of course all religious explanations are unfalsifiable and their strength is compromised by this.

  • mriehm

    We did not "fall" from some state of purity. Rather we have lifted ourselves partly above the animal state, through intelligence, empathy, learning, and society. Our inner brute is not the result of a fall - it is what remains after a degree of hard-won elevation. But we have not risen as far as the ideals that many of us hold, and so we see a dichotomy when we gaze in the mirror.

    • Maxximiliann

      Except for the reality that the myth “that all the living forms in the world have arisen from a single source which itself came from an inorganic form"(this fiction: http://bit.ly/18b2Jxe http://bit.ly/12K0jnv) is shorn of any demonstrable , quantifiable , empirical , testable or replicable evidence . The reasoning here is this requires millions upon millions of years - which absolutely no one has actually observed since , well , it needs millions upon millions of years. Nevertheless the fossil record , which ought to demonstrate a string of infinitesimally progressive adjustments from one being to another over a course of millions of years , reveals the complete opposite . . . but it’s anticipated that ( one day , someday ) the “missing” fossils of those intermediate species are going to eventually be discovered . In short , the only evidence for evolution is the presumption of evolution ...

  • Brad

    So if it is the case that our ultimate destinations are either eternal damnation or the opposite then our ultimate priority would I suppose be to avoid the bad one. If our human nature is such that eternal damnation is always knocking at the door then our goal should be to die in a state in which that nature is made right. Normally we get to that state either by some sort of works or faith, or a combination of both. However I would suggest that there is another point in our lives when we are in this state, and it as a newborn. Now keeping in mind that we're talking about an eternity of either something really good or something really bad I'd make a suggestion that might seem silly but, working with this after world view, should be considered. Those arguing for atheism on this website would have been better off to have died as newborns or in the womb, as I would assume that rejecting God would earn a ticket straight to hell. If rejecting God isn't enough to earn hell then at least dying as a newborn eliminates all the other possibilities that might pop up during life that could punch your ticket. That is a risk not in anyone's interest to take given eternity.

    • Michael Murray

      The time's they are a changing ...

      Eternal damnation is apparently now just eternal separation from God. The fires have been put out. Also the Pope seems to think good atheists might well go to heaven or at least it is not ruled out.

      • Brad

        I can't speak to the transformation of hell, though a glance at the artwork adorning churches and museums across the world show at the very least that once upon a time hell was preached as a real and painful place (check out the dome fresco of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence for a taste of the treats). It's important to remember that this stuff wasn't just for decoration. It functioned as lessons and warnings for an audience that was largely illiterate. A lot of it can be summed up as "stick with us or get a spear up you ass." Sorry for the graphic words, but these are graphic images. So yeah, things have changed. They kind of have to, as preaching hell wouldn't be too great for an institution lagging in numbers and trying to bring people back (at least in Europe and the US).

        Good atheists going to heaven was the reason I made the point that dying as a newborn eliminates all other possibilities that might happen to get you to hell. I guess the thing is that whatever gets you there happens during your lifetime and is probably some action you take.

      • mriehm

        That bit about hell just being separation from god - it is a hoax and the RC church has not put demons and hellfire behind itself. Regrettably. ;)

        Google for "third vatican council hoax".

      • Maxximiliann

        The Hellfire doctrine is a perverse Antichrist mendacity that defames God. As a God of justice and love he would never prescribe infinite punishment for a finite crime no matter how wicked: http://bit.ly/17fVMYm

        • Michael Murray

          So why did the Church teach it for so long?

          • Maxximiliann

            Because, obviously, they're Antichrist.

          • Michael Murray

            Ah my apologies. I have jumped to the conclusion that because you are a theist on these boards you are a Catholic. Can you elaborate on where you sit in the general area of Christian theologies and religions ?

          • Maxximiliann

            I am one of Jehovah's Witnesses. Here's a brief overview of our Christian beliefs: http://bit.ly/1ukr3HX

          • mriehm

            You might want to go troll somewhere else, Maxx. You lower the discussion.

          • Maxximiliann

            Flagged!

      • mriehm

        BTW this was a HOAX. Neither Pope Francis, nor the RC Church, said any such thing.

        • Michael Murray

          Ah thanks. I hadn't realised that. I knew there was a bit of Vatican Press Office damage limitation but I didn't realise the Pope bit was false.

          Winter's a bit chilly where I am at the moment so it's good to know the fires are still being stoked !

    • Guest

      Oh yeah, I forgot the point. This pretty much makes abortion a pretty good thing. The woman can later get her sin atoned for, and the baby doesn't have to risk ending up in hell.

    • Brad

      Oh yeah, I forgot the point. This pretty much makes abortion a good thing. The woman can later get her sin atoned for, and the baby doesn't have to risk ending up in hell.